Australian Magpie Eggs

19 April, 2009

A drawer of Magpie eggs (details) from the H.L White egg collection.
A drawer of Magpie eggs (details) from the H.L White egg collection.
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Last spring we had a family of magpies nesting in our backyard. We could not see into the nest and have since wondered how many eggs there would have been and what they would have looked like.

Answer: A female Australia Magpie lays between two and six eggs in a clutch, but a pair of magpies can usually only raise two chicks on their own. In order to raise more, they need help. For magpie parents, this help comes from their young from the previous year. These older siblings assist with food collection and nest defence. Many species of birds partake in this form of cooperative breeding.

Magpies are slow breeders; they produce one clutch a year and spend about 8 months incubating the eggs and raising the chicks to independence. In contrast, introduced starlings raise up to four clutches a year.

Magpie eggs can be up to 27 x 38 mm in width and length. The egg size is dependent on the size and the health of the mother: if she is in good condition, she will lay large eggs. This in turn affects the survival chances of the young. Babies that hatch from large eggs are larger and therefore more likely to survive and thrive than those from smaller eggs.

Magpie eggs are very variable in colour. They are usually light blue or green, but can also be reddish in colour. A single colour can be spread evenly across the egg or they can be multicoloured and blotchy.

Museum Victoria has an exceptional collection of bird eggs. A majority of these were donated to the museum by Henry Luke White in 1927. H. L. White was an avid collector: his collection contains 4,200 egg clutches and includes examples from almost every bird species in Australia known at the time (including the extinct Paradise Parrot). The collection is housed in a custom-made cabinet made of Queensland Maple. There is an entire drawer dedicated to magpie eggs showing quite a variety of colours and sizes.

Comments (27)

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Sally Williams 20 September, 2009 16:50
Distressing article in today's Sunday Herald Sun 20/9/09 for any bird lover.Nigel Williamson traps swooping birds and relocates them 100 kms from their nest !! A charlatan. Charges $100's Made a cruel business of animal rescue.
Martin Loughran 15 November, 2009 23:03
We have had a Magpie family coming to our place for about 3 years now & this year they produced 3 babies which the male mostly fed. For the past month or so the young have been coming to feed on their own & we would see the male with them. Now the female has started to come back & we can hardly keep the feed up to her, is it possible that she has another clutch of eggs or even hatched some more babies. Any answers would be appreciated. Regards Mart.
Discovery Centre 16 November, 2009 15:04

Hi Martin and thankyou for your enquiry.  We have contacted the Ornithology Collection Manager and he has advised that it is not unusual for magpies, and many other species, to breed more than once a year depending on the date of the first brood and seasonal conditions.

Jane Baker 22 December, 2009 14:52
Our resident magpies raised two chicks this year but one of the parents was badly injured in some sort of feral attack. While he convalesced under our care the juvenile from last year's unusual second nesting turned up and helped the other parent feed the two chicks. As he recovered the injured parent would share his morning mince with whichever chick was brave enough to sit on the verandah railwith him. Now mum, dad and big brother are all busy feeding two very big demanding chicks. Magpie family bonds hold over more than one gerneration. this family demonstarte it and so does another we have seen through five generations.
Hamish Lawrie 22 September, 2010 12:19
Today I found what I thought was a Magpie egg. Thank you to the Museum for confirming this. After reading your description and looking at the picture I now know that my egg is a Magpie egg that a baby Magpie hatched out of.
sean curtis 11 October, 2010 18:54
today i found 4 broken empty eggs scatterd within 3 meters on pave way no high trees above closest tree 15 meters away but we have lots of crows nesting to same as magpies do you think the crows may have stolen the magpie eggs for a feed or do the magpie parents discard the shells away from there nest to detere preditors ?
lauren 14 June, 2011 12:49
how may eggs does a magpie prduce each yesr
Lindy Cannard 2 November, 2012 19:13
We have had a pair of magpies coming to our home for the past few years, each year they bring their young chicks to meet us, this year they have 4 chicks, and now each morning we have two adults singing to us and 4 young standing behind their parents, I believe they recognize myself, husband and two boys, as the parents come right up to our feet to be fed, if some one new is visiting or tries to get close, they fly away. They even trust our Labrador, they walk right past or sit near her when they are in our backyard. I love having a family of magpies visit, and the trust they have for my family.
Gillian McFeat 15 November, 2012 19:53
Love my magpies. Been friends with same parents for 10 years since the Canberra bush fires. They have had 16 babies since. A 3 year old has stuck around to help with 3 born last year. Sadly no babies this year. My magpies recognise my voice when I call or whistle and come to be fed through the day. Just love it when the young ones practice their songs. Can someone tell me about the variation in beaks? Some meet perfectly while others overlap.
Z 8 December, 2012 10:53
Found a Magpie egg on the ground in the backyard, but didn't see the Magpie's parent. what should I do? Do i leave the egg on the ground? If thats the case will the other birds come and attck it? How do i save it If anyone knows the answer?
Tania Anderson 9 June, 2013 10:17
I have a magpie called Billie Boy which I feed regularly. I have seen him raise 3 generations of babies which have always been 2 at a time. He comes to me when I call and takes food from my hand very gently. At times I have observed him correcting his young with a peck and they will either lay on their side or back in submission and then get up again after he turns away. Quiet often, he'll feed them shortly after that. When I first saw this I was concerned for the young, but now know that they are not hurt in any way and assume it is part of setting up the family hierarchy. Billy has attitude - protects them when needed, but likes them to know who's boss! I have not made these birds dependent in any way and it has been a pleasure to be able to observe them at such close proximity. I am moving house soon and will be sorry to lose this bond I have with Billy :( I think magpies are a pleasure and have the most beautiful warble...
Trish Webster 29 November, 2014 16:36
Thank you Tania for your informative comment as I was concerned about one of our Magpies bullying a baby magpie into submission ( he pecks at the head of the baby and the baby rolls over in submission) it was very distressing to watch but we assumed it was a way to get the baby bird independent as it always occurred when he was squawking to be fed by the other adult magpie but we were not sure. I will be able to relax now and enjoy my magpie family
Rod & Nadja Spencer 18 August, 2013 21:52
We Have a family of Magpies which we have cared for over the last thirteen years. They are called Penguin, Queen and the latest Baby is called Grumpy. They are a delight to hear and see everyday. Australians are incredibly fortunate to have these beautiful Intelligent birds native to this country.
josh 7 December, 2014 04:04
Found a baby magpie in my front yard under my car which I was concerned about because it was no bigger than my hand, I assumed it had fallen out of the nest and then found its way in my yard. I put it in a box and took it to the vet which they told me they would just put it down or I could leave it near where I found it and hopefully the mother looks after it so I did what they said, mum and dad heard her sqwaucks and were there in seconds! My main concern is that its getting shelter from a little bush in my front yard and if it could have a broken leg? If so would it be be fine or if that was so would the mother just dissone it? Thanks josh
Discovery Centre 11 December, 2014 14:55
Hi Josh, the magpie is probably better off outside in the yard, as it is more likely to be taken back by the parents or even adopted by foster parents. However, you may want to keep an eye on the magpie and take it back to the vet if it really does have a leg injury or if it is really not being looked after by adults.
Shirley 24 January, 2015 15:44
We've had a nesting pair and two babies feeding out of our hands for several months. We had grandchildren stay recently who were very boisterous and noisy and we haven't seen the birds since. Have they been scared off or will they come back next time they breed?
Discovery Centre 7 February, 2015 11:30

Hello Shirley! Magpies have learnt that living near people is to their advantage. They know how to avoid potentially dangerous children yet remain close to a source of food. They have a territory that they defend strongly and nest regularly in local trees although they may not have young each year. Their home territory can vary from 2 to 20 hectares and areas of lawn/grass are fiercely defended. Perhaps your birds have been seen by neighbours and are ranging a bit further as the young mature.

Michelle 15 March, 2015 09:59
We have fed three generations of magpies. The dominant male is called Pharlap because he does outstanding imitations of a horse. In Feb 2015 we had a cat 4 cyclone pass through our town. Our family of magpies which now consists of 4 adults and 3 babies, turned up at our house just as the winds were starting to become quite strong. They stayed grouped together, sheltered on our back patio for the 5 hour duration of the cyclone. The parents sat on my exercise bike and the babies huddled together beside a large pot plant. It was a special moment to share how safe they felt at our house.
Kerrie 28 March, 2017 02:31
I'm hoping my little family of magpies are going to do the same thing. The father started bringing his baby to meet us and now the baby has graduated to showing up on our patio for food and to play in our yard and bird bath. My sons have named him Max and have grown quite attached to him so I'm hoping my little feathery friend will be okay tonight.
tania 22 June, 2015 11:36
does anyone know when magpies lay their eggs in geelong I want to leave some things out so they can make an extra soft nest for their babies. Saw the female in our backyard last year taking chunks of foam out of the dogs bed.
alan murphy 15 October, 2015 16:09
How long have magpies been present in australia
Discovery Centre 16 October, 2015 11:59

Hi Alan - the Australian Magpie and all species of Butcherbirds (all from the genus Cracticus) are native to Australasia; the fossil record for birds of this size isn't extensive due to the bones being so small and fragile as to not preserve well as fossils.

Having said this, the oldest confirmed fossil record of the current living species of magpie Cracticus tibicen is over 50, 000 years old, but the ancestral lineage is highly likely to be far older, stretching millions of years prior.

Catherine 19 April, 2016 09:13
I have 4 magpies that come for breakfast, the largest one bully's the youngest one.Why?
Discovery Centre 25 April, 2016 10:45
Hi Catherine, 

Australian Magpies (Cracticus tibicen) have a complex social structure that acts to bind the group together and to defend it against predators and against other magpie groups that may hold adjacent territories. The social structure also operates within the group, and the behaviour you describe as bullying may be play-learning by young individuals, which can include jumping on each other (or being jumped on by adults) in mock fighting, and chasing each other and pulling other magpies down to the ground. Adults often join in enthusiastically with juveniles. Within any group of birds (or any other animals for that matter) exist individuals with varying levels of aggression or with injuries or other incapacities that make them turn on their group-mates, or may be an individual that requires more food (or just feels that it needs more food). Behaviour such as this is not unusual in species that have complex social structures and random ‘personalities’ between individuals.

Sandra Bean 23 April, 2016 14:44
We discovered a baby magpie out the front of our home which couldn't fly and seemed to have some soirt of a damaged leg. I got some advice from the local wildlife people who said just to keep an eye on it. We watched it for about 5 days. The parents were feeding him but he just couldn't take off. We caught him and took him to the local vet who asked for our address for rerelease. Weeks later a very friendly one legged magpie turned up on our lawn. We started to feed "Peg" leg and he eventually bought his mate to visit as well. The first season, no babies, and much to our excitement we got a little female this year, but just as she was coming to visit with her parents on a regular basis she ended up somehow with a very badly broken leg. Another trip to the vet, but sadly we've never seen here again. Hoping for some more babies this year.
Alan Eipper 2 October, 2016 09:19
Matthew and Megan have been with us for six years. In order the have raised 1,2,2,4 and 2 and currently an unknown number in the nest. Although both will sit on my knee or arm to feed they have totally different personalities. Matthew likes to come and talk to my wife and I. Calling us on arrival then chatting before his feed. Megan does not respond but loves to sit and look from side to side while we talk to her. If we leave the door open she walks in and STIs on the breakfast bar opposite the fridge. She, of course, knows where the food is kept. Whenever we go away regardless of the duration we always get a welcome home.
Kerrie 28 March, 2017 02:39
We've only been in our house for five months but the first week consisted of our youngest "getting to know" our little family of magpies after he surprised the father and scared him. Bothh parents (Muzza and Maggie) eould take turns at visiting for food and eventually bought their baby (Maxie) to visit and get used to us. Now we have Maxie here most of the day playing in the yard and eating everything he finds. He likes to sit on our patio table and watch us being human. We're on the outer edges of a cyclone currently and I'm hoping my little sidekick is ok.
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